It’s so tempting, it could just about make you crazy – kind of like the carton of Rocky Road ice cream in the freezer, or the designer shoes now 25% off at your favorite store. It’s sitting there, on the tip of your tongue and you’re desperate to say it…but don’t.
“I told you so.”
Parenting adult children is like driving the Los Angeles freeways. You can coast along and feel confident that you’ll get to your destination on time and then WHAM. Traffic backs up – sometimes for no reason – and you have to deal with it. You can’t ignore traffic anymore than you can ignore your grown-up kids when they’re having a difficult time, no matter how much you might want to. All of those years of raising them, caring for them, managing their lives – even if you miss having them around all the time, you probably don’t miss the ever-present feelings that you had something to take care of or worry about or tend to when it came to your kids.
Maybe it goes this way – you don’t hear much from your grown kid, and you wish you heard more, but you understand that she is making her way in the world and she’s really busy. Like, always doing something, going somewhere, exercising, cooking, dating, washing her clothes, road-tripping, going to Coachella, or the beach, or the lake, or the river….life is good. So you sigh a little sigh, feel a little wistful, but really, you’re so happy for her that she’s having such a good life. And so you enjoy your empty nest, because, well, it’s really quite enjoyable.
And then one morning, she calls you. And you’re surprised to see her number on your cell phone because you know she’s at work/sleeping/at the gym. And you hear it in her voice, almost before she says anything.
The worst has happened, of course. The guy she loved has dumped her, the promotion she wanted went to someone else, the chips and salsa and margaritas finally appeared around her waist and nothing fits. She owes thousands on her credit card, or her car, the one with the light that said “service needed” for months, has broken down. Her roommate got a cat, and she’s allergic or her roommate got a dog and he poops everywhere.
And you’ve talked about it, whatever IT is, over and over. You’ve heard the complaints, you’ve offered suggestions, you’ve encouraged change (a new job, a new boyfriend, a new roommate, a new diet). She heard you, she nodded in agreement or texted a thumbs up – but nothing changed.
Don’t say it. Don’t say “I told you so.”
Listen to her – and be patient, even if you want to fling your iPhone across the room. Let her rant and cry, even if you want to send her to her room for a time out like you did when she was five and told you she had no idea who poured the fishy crackers in the goldfish bowl (poor little goldfish). You are her safe place at this moment, you are the only person she can talk to about this crappy, awful, terrible, sad, seam-splitting day.
Unlike when our kids were growing up, our young adults don’t need to be disciplined or reprimanded. They know they made a big mistake, more often than not, when they make one. They feel badly enough as it is. Unless there’s something desperately wrong and you are afraid for her peace of mind or health, don’t be that parent again. Be the parent who empathizes and helps, like you would with a peer. Offer what you can- be it money, time, or insight – but don’t berate her or humiliate her.
And please, whatever you do, don’t say “I told you so.”
Because the next time she is in pain, she might think twice about letting you in.